Depending obviously on the village or area, there is still a high percentage of resentful stares, a load of ‘Piss Taker Geoffreys’ (these guys shout at you in Tonga and then laugh their heads off, rather aggressively), and EVERY child shouts Zooooonguuuu (Azungu or Muzungu – I think one is plural. It means White Man). Although being shouted at constantly, what essentially boils down to “Oi White Boy - I wanna see your weird face” all day every day can be a little wearing, its nothing I can’t handle. It’s the money monsters that I have had real trouble with coping with.
3 in every 4 village children, and 1 in every about 10 village Adults (again high densities in certain areas) Say nothing but “Give me Money”, “Give me my money”, “Gimme me money”, “money”, “dollar!”, “Give me dollar!”. The most common is “give me money!”. Most of them do not understand what they are saying, but have been taught to say it by their parents. If I ever stop, they usually run away (might have something to do with my furrowed eyebrow - “mate, I told you that in confidence” face I usually reserve for friends who are banding around hilarious stories about me to others.) and often say it whilst waving and smiling. This, unfortunately does not stop it getting me down. If I had written this two days ago, fume would have been coming through my fingers and into they keyboard. It is EXHAUSTING, when you’re crawling up a mountain and the kids are running along beside you with their hands out just repeating “give me money” over and over and over and over and over (the road in Malawi is one extremely long village). I know they look sweet in the photo, but don't be fooled! So cheeky and annoying! (most of the time, I can't help but laugh!)
In the last day or so, I have resorted to copy cat. Childish? Yes. But it works. When I repeat it back to them they either shut up or they laugh. Both good results. When I repeat back to Piss Taker Geoffreys, they usually laugh. A much better way to cope with the situation.
I can only speculate as to why the only English the entire population of Malawi knows are these words, but I imagine it has to do with the huge amount of international Aid that is shipped in here (great big billboards of smiling children with “FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE” written all over them), that vast number of temporary volunteers who come in help for a week or two then move on, and that there are quite a few tourists who, when they see a sweet child’s face probably do hand over the equivalent of 50p, or a quid. Why not? (Makes me laugh to think that the next time white folk go through these villages, hopefully they will be greeted with “What's going down homeopaths??”, “brothers of looove”, “whaasss happenin playasss?!” as I hear them echoing behind me...) But I really do think that it must in the long term have a negative impact, mainly on the relations between foreign white people and the black people who live in the villages here. There can be no mutual respect.
In Malawi, my favourite places in some ways have been the big towns or the tourist hubs (this is quite unlike me)– as there at least most people will ignore you (apart from the cockney accented Rasta sharks) or just smile normally at you. The beggars are begging from everyone – not just the Zungu’s.
Having said all this, I have met some extraordinarily friendly people here, so welcoming and so kind. I do acknowledge that for the most part, they don’t understand what they are saying, and yes White People who can afford to fly to Cape Town and cycle across Africa do have more money than Malawian villagers. I also accept (before anyone points it out to me!) the irony that my entire premise of this trip is based on me asking people for money, I know that its not for me but it equates to similar things. I could go on with the different parts of the riddle– as you can see, it has clearly been causing me some mental strife! Strife that I have now moved past! Just. I do think that this aspect of travelling is pretty unique to cyclists and that the majority of visitors would only glimpse this part of the country, as they are either volunteering, or on holiday and you don’t often stop in villages that offer the tourist nothing.
At school in my CT (Christian Theology) class a friend of mine –Tommy - started a nickname for me. Pope Ivan iii. I was named so because I would get up on my moral high horse about things and we would argue all day long, one of our most heated arguments after Tommy’s infamous quote - “I don’t believe in homeless people”. However, after volunteering in Malawi Tommy has since admitted that, yes, homeless people do exist. However it seems the opposite has happened to me – the Pope is dead, his heart turned to stone by the very people that melted Tommy’s. Iroooony.
P.s. Forgive me any American spellings – can’t change the spell checker.